Straight-A Students + Anorexia: Where Perfectionism and Eating Disorders Collide

In today's sad-but-true news, it's being reported that elite prep schools in the UK are fostering anorexic behavior among teen girls. It seems that striving for straight As is also instigating a desire for the straight-A skinny body. 

It should come as no surprise that perfectionist women have always wanted "perfect" thin bodies, too, and there's a ton of interesting evidence to back up this scientific link (see here, here and here). But before shouting duh, consider that it's not quite as simple as that.

Last January, a study in the Journal of Eating Disorders dug in to two distinct types of perfectionism: adaptive and maladaptive. Adaptive perfectionism is linked to having personal high standards; it's inwardly focused. Maladaptive perfectionism is driven by a fear of making mistakes and displeasing others; it's more outwardly focused. Both can cause eating disorders, but interestingly, the research revealed that women seeking the thinnest bodies were driven by a maladaptive fear of making mistakes.

Why is this scary? Because in prep schools and beyond, the expectations for women are quickly mounting—and as a result, more women are being set up to feel this very fear.

A few years ago, a different study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology revealed that more women than men think they're messing up in life. The cold, hard stats:

At work, 38% of women did not feel they met the high standards they set themselves, compared with 24% of men. When it came to home and family life, 30% of women felt they were failing to meet the standards they wanted to compared with 17% of men.

The study's author speculated that the root of this gender discrepancy could be—you guessed it—dizzying social expectations for the modern woman. (Stay home with your kids! Be a high-powered career woman! Cook! Clean! Break the glass ceiling!)

In other words: The dangerous pressures faced by those prep-school teens will likely continue well after graduation, too.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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